Saturday, January 15, 2011

papers, travel and melancholia

This week has been a good week.  The paper got done, with an hour to spare, and even though I hate it, it was accepted to be presented at the Popular Culture Association/ American Culture Association National Conference this April in San Antonio.  On Wednesday I registered for the conference and booked a nice, inexpensive hotel room in San Antonio and found some really cheap plane tickets that will take me from London to Utah, Utah to Texas and Texas back to London for only $980.  Incredible.  I also applied for funding with my school for the conference, and I should hear back about that in about 3 weeks.

So that's pretty much set to go.  I'll be leaving for Utah on March 31 and I'll be back in London just in time for the Royal Wedding and research juries.  I haven't bought the tickets yet because I am a little worried about taking that much time off before the juries, which will decide whether or not I can be upgraded from the MPhil to a PhD.  But this is where I am extremely grateful for that wedding because it sounds like the juries will have to be pushed back, hopefully more than a week.  

This week I also started classes. One is a research methods class, and I found out that I have to give a presentation on my somewhat non-existent research on February 8th.  My other class is about melancholy, how it shows up and what it means in culture.  We had a somewhat interesting discussion on this etching by Albrect Durer called "Melancholia I" (no one has ever found "Melancholia II" or "Melancholia III", but it's supposed that this might have been part of a series originally)

The image is of a very heavy, weighed down angel, solemnly musing with a darkened face and curious bits lying around it.  Apparently some German art historians spent decades trying to figure out what it all means. I think the satisfying conclusion is basically that melancholy is not a useless state of being, but a noble state, especially for the scholar and philosopher.  It's a balanced paradoxical state, as evidenced by many of the images in the etching:  the angel with wings who is too heavy to fly, the unringing bell, the hourglass with equal amounts of sand in each half (time that has stopped), the starved dog at rest (the dog was often a symbol of lust, apparently, which was also associated with melancholy, and yet here he is docile and conquered).  It is an image of paradoxical movement and stasis, and I guess that's what melancholy is.  I don't know, that's basically what I got out of the hour long lecture.  I'm excited for next week because we'll be talking about the Gothic, which is kind of my thing. 

I'm really struggling right now with my own research.  The idea I had originally is not proving very fruitful, and I keep discovering book that have done all the things I thought to do.  I'm stuck and I'm falling into that overwhelmed state where I'd rather sit and stare at a wall than spend a day reading a book that might end up being useless to me.  I'm scared of wasting time when I'm doing the research, so I'd rather do nothing.  Plus I might not be as interested in the topic as I thought I was.  I'd rather be doing anything than reading WWI history.  It might be time for a refocus, but it might also be too late for one. 

On a final note, Stephen Fry has been making a documentary and tweeting his locations, which for the last week have been in my neighborhood. Alas, all of my attempts to find him, including a sprint to the British Museum this morning, have been fruitless.  Maybe I'll get lucky this week.  I've been listening to his The Ode Less Traveled, a book about writing poetry.  He has exercises in the book that have been very challenging and fun, and I'm hoping it will help me think more creatively.

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